By 2001, Thompson would quickly rise to the position of president of the Midwest Division and its 2,200-plus restaurants. A year later, business was getting soft and McDonald’s reorganized. Among the changes was a reduction in the number of division presidents from five to three. The company needed to downsize and refocus. Voluntary retirements were offered, and the company’s 40 regions were combined into 21. Business needed stimulating and again Thompson was tapped. Mike Roberts, who was president of McDonald’s USA at the time, asked Thompson to head back to San Diego and oversee the company’s 4,000 locations that constituted its Western Division.
Two years later, Thompson packed his bags and headed back to Illinois, this time as executive vice president of Global Innovation Orchestration. In addition to having a rather long title, Thompson was part of a team that looked at global strategies. Thompson worked with each of McDonald’s four global business units–North America, Latin America, Asia/Pacific/Middle East/Africa, and Europe–to develop effective menu items and an efficient operational process. What McDonald’s gained was a host of menu items customized to local tastes, including a shrimp burger in Japan to accommodate the love of seafood there. What Thompson gained in the process was valuable international experience. Business began to pick up.
The company was turning around. Under the “Plan to Win” program announced in 2003, the company’s U.S. operations focused on service and selection at existing locations rather than developing new locations. The menu strategies focused on chicken, breakfast, beverages, and convenience. McDonald’s introduced healthier alternatives and additional breakfast _offerings and nixed their super size option.
Just as McDonald’s was in the beginnings of its turnaround plan, CEO James Cantalupo suffered a fatal heart attack while at a company convention in Orlando, Florida. Charlie Bell, who was president and chief operating officer, succeeded him. However, within a year, Bell too passed away, of colon cancer. Jim Skinner was named CEO, Roberts moved up to CFO of the global company, and Thompson was bumped up to executive vice president and chief operating officer of the U.S. business to oversee the field and everything that happened within each of the restaurants daily. He was back on the revenue side with each of the three division presidents in the U.S. reporting directly to him.